You are here

Paying Our Dues

The idea of paying to ‘own’ software has always been problematic. What exactly is it that you possess? And what responsibilities does its maker then have towards you?

Sam Inglis, SOS Editor In Chief.Sam Inglis, SOS Editor In Chief.Photo: JG HardingThe true cost of creating software is not apparent to the consumer, because it lies in development and support, not manufacturing. And since it costs nothing to duplicate a file, it’s easy to arrive at a spurious justification for using cracked software. You could even say that the ownership model makes piracy inevitable.

It’s also unpopular with many software houses. The fixed cash hit from selling a software licence commits them to open‑ended support costs, and existing customers are in effect a financial burden rather than a source of income. Small wonder, then, that more and more software companies are moving to a subscription model. Just within the last couple of months, Universal Audio have launched their UAD Spark scheme, while Avid have announced that Pro Tools will be subscriber‑only to new customers. Large plug‑in developers such as Waves and Slate Digital have long had their own subscription options, while smaller developers often partner with resellers such as Plugin Alliance and Splice.

Why do we still feel so attached to the idea of ‘owning’ software?

On paper, these schemes offer obvious benefits, providing access to far more functionality than most of us could justify ‘buying’ outright. EastWest’s Composer Cloud, for example, makes affordable an enormous range of software instruments that would otherwise be out of most people’s reach. The subscription model has also been standard in other industries for years — but in ours, it still meets with consumer resistance. Why do we still feel so attached to the idea of ‘owning’ software?

Perhaps, on a psychological level, it’s because our DAWs and plug‑ins are functional replacements for tangible objects that can be resold. Or perhaps it’s that we are worried about being able to return to old projects once subscriptions have lapsed, a fear that strikes me as more theoretical than real. (It’s not difficult to archive projects as stems, and in any case, OS upgrades, computer swaps and so on are just as likely to stymie our attempts to open old DAW files.)

Either way, my feeling is that if you’re still ruling out subscriptions ‘on principle’, it might be worth reconsidering. It’s not a trick, there isn’t a catch, and many of them give you much more than merely software. When you check out the extras on offer in services such as PreSonus’s Sphere or Roland’s Cloud, for example, it’s hard to argue that you’re not getting value for money. Ultimately, I suspect, the decision to go down the subscription route will end up being made for us, and if this hasn’t already become the normal way of paying for software, it soon will be. That just leaves the more difficult decision of which packages to opt for!

Sam Inglis Editor In Chief